Some of my fondest memories from holidays in my childhood are of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The magic of the parade with its wonderful balloons signaled the beginning of one of my favorite times of year. But I never gave much thought to the history of the parade and its famous balloons. When I saw the book Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, by Melissa Sweet, I couldn’t resist the chance to meet the man behind the magic.
Balloons Over Broadway is the story of Tony Sarg, a puppeteer whose creativity and imagination took him from a childhood scheme to figure out how to feed the family chickens at 6:30 a.m. without having to leave his bed to creating the iconic balloon floats that have become an annual holiday tradition for millions of people. Sarg’s career with Macy’s began when he was asked to create a “puppet parade” for the store’s holiday windows. His mechanical marionettes were so successful that when Macy’s decided to host a holiday parade, they hired him to create costumes and floats.
Later, when they needed to replace the live animals in the parade with something else, they turned to Sarg who created his first giant puppets. But as the parade’s popularity grew, the puppets also had to grow in scale while still being manageable and maneuverable. Sarg’s answer was to use balloons as a sort of inverted puppet and a beloved tradition was born. Sarg raised puppetry to new artistic heights and his legend extends far beyond the parade that is his most famous invention. One of his apprentices was Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.
Balloons Over Broadway is a fascinating story well-told with amazing illustrations. Sweet manages to convey Sarg’s passion and love for his work. That she understands and shares Sarg’s enthusiasm is clear from the delightful toys and puppets she made for the illustrations. The watercolor and collage images are bright and cheerful, and the picture of the first balloons floating down Broadway evokes a sense of wonder that echoes my childhood emotions.
This book put a huge smile on my face as I revisited cherished memories from my childhood while also gaining a much greater appreciation of the parade’s impressive history. If you, too, have fond memories of those massive balloons, get your hands on this book to relive your childhood joy and share that wonder with a new generation of parade fans.